Greening the U.S. Federal Government – Executive Order 13514

Starting with George Washington, U.S. Presidents have issued over 15,000 executive orders to date. Do U.S. federal agencies actually fulfill these directives?

I pondered this question while writing the previous post, Green Legislation – Obama Administration, which included a summary of Executive Order 13514 – Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance.

President Obama Participating in Signing Executive Order 13514 on October 5, 2009 - Photo: Peta Souza, White House
President Obama Participating in Signing Executive Order 13514 on October 5, 2009 – Photo: Peta Souza, White House

Some readers may be able to relate to CEOs, executives, and managers handing down the private sector version of executive orders in the form of company-wide or department-wide edicts, directives, or mandates. In my experience, sometimes we followed directives to the letter, other times half-heartedly, and sometimes not at all.

Does the President garner more cooperation than a corporate CEO does? The answer is probably “It depends,” but the President as the Chief Executive of the United States does have the backing of the U.S. Constitution.

I thought it would be fun and informative to find out what actions federal agencies have taken to comply with the directives of EO 13514. Below is a summary of what I learned during a brief investigation.

Executive Order 13514 – Overview

The U.S. federal government occupies over half a million buildings, operates more than 600,000 vehicles, and purchases over $500 billion in goods and services each year 1, which enables federal agencies to make enormous reductions in carbon emissions, water use, and fossil fuel consumption, while using their considerable buying power to influence greening the government supply chain.

President Obama issued Executive Order 13514 – Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance on October 5, 2009, directing federal agencies to lead the country towards a clean energy economy and reduce greenhouse gases by greening their own operations.

The actions and targets outlined in EO 13514 cover a wide range of measures including reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing energy efficiency, using renewable energy, conserving water, diverting waste from landfills, improving building performance, and buying environmentally preferable goods and services.

Graywater System at U.S. Airforce Hurlburt Field, FL - Photo: U.S. Air Force
Graywater System at U.S. Airforce Hurlburt Field, FL – Photo: U.S. Air Force

Federal departments and agencies affected by EO 13514 include the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, the Social Security Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and others.

Note: EO 13514 uses the federal government’s fiscal year (FY) calendar, which begins on October 1 of one year and ends on September 30 of the next.

Executive Order 13514 – Oversight and Information

The Council on Environmental Quality and Office of Management and Budget jointly oversee EO 13514 implementation and compliance.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security January 2014 Sustainability / Energy ScorecardThe Federal Facilities Environmental Stewardship and Compliance Assistance Center is a one-stop-shopping website providing information, tools, data, status reports, and guidance to assist federal agencies in addressing and fulfilling EO 13514 requirements.

Individual agency scorecards and strategic sustainability performance plans were relatively easy to locate, but I could not find a dashboard or report summarizing progress made to date on a federal government-wide basis, except for energy-related goals.

Executive Order 13514 – Interagency Collaboration

EO 13514 designated various agencies to work together to develop tools and guidelines to assist all agencies. A few examples are below.

  • The DOE led the development of a GHG emission accounting tool and procedure for measuring and reporting progress.
  • The GSA and DOE prepared guidelines to aid agencies in improving fleet energy performance.
  • The EPA led the effort to create guidelines for working with vendors on greening the supply chain.

Executive Order 13514 – Strategic Sustainability Performance Plans

Each agency created a sustainability plan outlining the actions it is taking and intends to take to achieve its goals and comply with EO 13514. Agencies publish scorecards and updated sustainability plans annually.

Progress on Energy Goals

The federal government is the largest energy consumer in the U.S, therefore, reducing fossil fuel use, increasing energy efficiency, and increasing renewable energy use will not only reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions it will save taxpayers billions of dollars.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Goals

EO 13514 requires each federal agency to establish a GHG emission reduction goal based on 2008 estimated emissions and achieve the goal by 2020.

The GHG emissions reduction goal consists of three categories:

  • Scope 1 – direct GHG emissions from federally owned or controlled sources, including fuels, burned on site and vehicle emissions.
  • Scope 2 – indirect GHG emissions from the offsite generation of electricity, heat, or steam purchased by federal agencies.
  • Scope 3 – indirect GHG emissions related to agency activities including vendor supply chains, delivery services, and employee travel.

Federal agencies established their 2020 targets in early January 2010.

On January 29, 2010, President Obama announced the aggregated federal agency goals are to reduce direct GHG emissions by 28% and indirect GHG emissions by 13% by 2020.

As of September 30, 2013, the federal government had reduced direct GHG emissions by 17.2% seemingly on track to meet the 28% goal by 2020 and had exceeded the 13% goal for indirect GHG emissions with a 19.8% reduction.

U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory South Table Mountain Campus, Golden, CO - Photo: Dennis Schroeder / NREL
U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory South Table Mountain Campus, Golden, CO – Photo: Dennis Schroeder / NREL
Petroleum Product Use Reduction Goal

Agencies operating a fleet of least 20 motor vehicles are required to reduce consumption of petroleum products by 2% annually through 2020. I could not locate a government-wide progress report on petroleum use.

Renewable Energy Goal

President Obama raised the bar on renewable energy on December 5, 2013, by issuing his Memorandum on Federal Leadership on Energy Management, which requires each agency to obtain 20% of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020, beginning with 10% in 2015.

Federal agency renewal energy use was at 9.2% of total energy use in September 2013.

My research indicates that at least in the case of EO 13514 federal agencies do take presidential executive orders seriously.

Greening the U.S. federal government is good for the planet, people, and taxpayer wallets.

Related Posts

References

  1. Congressional Research Service – Executive Order 13514: Sustainability and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction, by Richard J. Campbell and Anthony Andrews, December 3, 2009

Resources

Green Legislation – Obama Administration

To date, the U.S. Congress has submitted zero green legislation to President Obama for his signature but he has not been idle on the environmental front.

Beginning with President John Adams, each U.S. president inherits the work of his or her predecessors, the legislation signed into law, proclamations made, executive orders issued, memorandums written, and the state of the union.

President Barack Obama - Official White House Portrait Photo: Pete Souza 2012-12-06
President Barack Obama – Official White House Portrait Photo: Pete Souza 2012-12-06

In 2009, Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States taking the helm of the country during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Although tackling environmental issues was probably on the new President’s mind, it was not his top priority and it was not even on the U.S. Congress’ to-do list

However, President Obama has made use of the legacy provided by former Presidents and Congresses and exercised his powers as the Chief Executive of the United States to address environmental issues and climate change.

We will look at a few examples in this post.

Protecting and Preserving Public Lands and Waters

The U.S. Congress may set aside land and water for protection and conservation for the good of the public and future generations and so may the President.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 includes a provision authorizing the President to protect and preserve landmarks, structures, and objects of historic or scientific interest on federal land by declaring them national monuments. Ever since President Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill into law, most Presidents, including Roosevelt, have exercised their authority to declare national monuments via presidential proclamation.

To date, President Obama has designated 16 national monuments including Rio Grande del Norte, San Juan Islands, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, San Gabriel Mountains, and Browns Canyon as well as Fort Monroe and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad.

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, NM - Photo: Oscar Simpson via ConservAmerica
Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, NM – Photo: Oscar Simpson via ConservAmerica

Greening the United States Federal Government

Although not specifically called out in the U.S. Constitution, every President including George Washington has utilized proclamations and executive orders to direct and influence the business of the U.S. government.

The federal government is the largest employer, landholder, and building occupier, and operates the largest land, air, and water vehicle fleet in the United States. This places the U.S. government in a unique position and provides federal agencies with an opportunity to lead by example and address climate change on a wide scale.

Apparently, President Obama believes this too. He has issued environmental and climate change related executive orders and memorandums throughout his presidency.

For instance, President Obama issued Executive Order 13514 – Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance on October 5, 2009, directing all federal agencies to lead the country towards a clean energy economy and reduce greenhouse gases by greening their own operations.

This means increasing energy efficiency, using renewable energy, reducing fossil fuel use, conserving water, eliminating waste, recycling, purchasing environmentally preferable materials, products, and services; operating energy efficient vehicles and high-performance sustainable buildings.

For the first time ever, federal agencies are now required to track their greenhouse gas emissions, establish reduction targets, and report on their progress.

Greening the federal government means the White House too. Installing solar panels on the White House residence roof in 2013 set a good example.

National Dialogue on Climate Change

Other U.S. presidents have talked about climate change related topics like renewable energy or resilient infrastructure, but President Obama made climate change part of our national dialogue. It began with one sentence during his first inaugural address.

“We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.”

President Barack Obama, Inaugural Address, January 20, 2009

Now, six years later, the President regularly discusses climate change alongside the economy, health care, education, social security, and foreign policy. Below is an excerpt from his State of the Union speech on January 20, 2015.

“Now, I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists, that we don’t have enough information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what, I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA and at NOAA and at our major universities. And the best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we don’t act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration and conflict and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.

And that’s why, over the past 6 years, we’ve done more than ever to combat climate change, from the way we produce energy to the way we use it. That’s why we’ve set aside more public lands and waters than any administration in history. And that’s why I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts. I am determined to make sure that American leadership drives international action.

In Beijing, we made a historic announcement: The United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution. And China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions. And because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up and offering hope that this year the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got.”

President Barack Obama, State of the Union Speech, January 20, 2015

Climate change is out in the open now.

With two years remaining in his final term, President Obama and Congress may yet come together and enact green legislation to protect the planet for our children and future generations. Regardless, I believe President Obama will continue to exercise his executive authority and will move the ball forward on climate change.

Related Posts

Resources